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The worst part about religion is that it usually gives God a bad name.
I've gone from one religion to another. Other people have done the same thing, finally settling on one of them, or maybe deciding they're all wrong. Here are my conclusions, so far, at least.
I don't doubt that maybe Jibril (Gabriel) laid the skinny on Mohammed, or the Gautama (a.k.a. the Buddha) saw the light under a tree. My doubts are about what happened next. This revelation and enlightenment is subtle stuff, and it's got a shelf life. I think it's got a half life of less than two generations, so before fifty years have passed, most of it has been lost or corrupted. By now, I think, 99 percent of what was revealed to a prophet a thousand or two thousand years ago has been replaced by other stuff, invented by lesser people. In other words, you can take 99 percent of the Bible or other scriptures, and, if you don't throw them away, then you ought at least to put them into some kind of quarantine because they're dangerous. They are often great as literature, maybe with a few clues about history, but as far as guides to finding God, forget it: you'll get some cultural traditions — which can be illuminating but aren't better than the next guy's traditions — but that's all.
The official story is that this information was passed down from master to disciples to lesser disciples, but, miraculously, even though it wasn't written down sometimes for centuries, it hasn't been corrupted. I simply don't believe it. No one in the times of Jesus or Mohammed even mentioned them in writing at the times they supposedly lived. In fact, a historian will say there are doubts that either of them ever existed. Things obviously are corrupted, as the contradictions in the scriptures indicate they might be. For instance, the town of Nazareth, where Jesus was born, had been destroyed centuries before his birth, and wasn't rebuilt until 60 or 70 CE. I'm supposed to believe that Mary and Joseph came from the rubble of a ghost town that hadn't been occupied for 600 years? At the very least, the received doctrines and narratives are questionable.
But I'm not ready to reject it all completely. I think there are truths there, we just have to dig for them.
As I said, I've tried lots of religions. When the same things keep popping up in a lot of places, I have to wonder if there is a good reason for that. Take reciprocity, for example: what is known in the Christian world as the Golden Rule. It's all over the place. Now, that could be because it's just an obvious way to do things, it could reflect the way we're wired, there are still other possibilities, but it might also be a law from God, and God passed it out to a lot of different prophets or seers or wise men or sages or whatever. But I want to know why it's so common.
As for the laws of God, I expect them to be like laws of nature, like gravity, the conservation of momentum, and such. We should be able to discover them, test them, measure them, and so forth. Philosophers spend time thinking they can reason and experiment their way to an understanding of the truth, and I'm with them. We can't be expected to obey a law we don't understand, that isn't rational and can't be comprehended. God didn't pass out laws as such, he built them into the structure of the universe.
God doesn't give exclusives, as in “Tonight we have an exclusive interview with...” It doesn't make sense. Take, for example, the situation with Christianity. As it is, the Christians are the greatest mass murderers in history. Colonial conquest was responsible for hundreds of millions of deaths, and the killing continues as we speak. That doesn't mean that it's Christianity's fault (although I think it partly is, but that's another story), but, if I were God and wanted to advertise, to get the word out, why would I entrust it to a bunch of megalomaniacal, raping, pillaging, killing, thieving psychopaths? If I were among the victims of colonialism, I surely wouldn't want to buy into the religion of my oppressors. On the other hand, there are the Muslims. Now, I see the people running many of the Islamic states as not Muslims at all, they're Muslims in form only. As for Daesh/ISIL/ISIS or whatever their surrogates are, they're about as Islamic as a can of dog food. (Yes, the insult was intended.) Most Muslims are good people, I have prayed in mosques with them, and worked with them, and they get a bad rap. Sometimes I think the “average American”, if there is such a thing, has the idea that Muslims are mostly agents of the devil, and would run from Qur'an as if it were radioactive biohazardous waste. Would God rely on such people to get his message out, when they're working under such a handicap through no fault of their own? I don't think so. God will let us know what he thinks in as many ways as it takes, he's not going to rely on one channel only.
Finally — and this is important — not everyone is literate, a lot of people find complex ideas challenging, and they're corrupted, to make it worse, by the sick and twisted society we live in. Whatever the truth is, it's got to be simple. If anything, God watches out more for his less fortunate creations, and he's not going to require sophisticated rituals or understanding of complex dogma to be in his good graces. I don't think the average person in the developed world realizes that some of the theories behind, say, Christianity or Judaism are pretty difficult for some people to grasp for those from different cultures and with little education. To me, that makes them wrong.
All that having been said, here goes...
Any God must be so far beyond our comprehension, that he/she/it cannot be described in words. After all, the Universe is so hard to comprehend, if God made it and it wasn't some kind of accident, then he must be a really unique, singular dude, for which exist no adjectives whatsoever. (Or, if God is a verb and not a noun, a kind of “active principle” deity, then maybe there are no adverbs.) Some religions go ahead and say this, but then they often muddy the waters and say that “God wants this or that”, or “God was angry about (fill in the blanks)”. This confuses people, besides being contradictory. How could God possibly be angry? I mean, after all, he can just turn whomever or whatever he dislikes to smoking cinders, right? Or does he like being angry? And what are we supposed to do about, with, or for this God beyond comprehension? Yes, I know there are lots of explanations, such as, “We're supposed to worship (or love or serve or whatever) God who doesn't really need or want it, but it's about us, not about Him or Her...”. This is starting to sound pretty contrived.
So I go with the hierarchy approach, which puts an indescribable God at the apex, and has various manifestations or emanations or avatars or whatever, in levels of increasing complexity, below. When somebody thought that God was angry, he was referring to a lesser entity to which or to whom wrath might reasonably be attributed. You might at this point have noticed that I have omitted a few logical steps. For example, why do I think there is a God in the first place? Whatever is at the apex of this hierarchy is, to me, by definition, God. If you don't like to use the word, God, then call he/she/it Singularity, Asymptote, Limit Point, Incomprehensible Condition, or whatever. (God has three letters, it's easier to spell.) This is one of those cases where logical rigour and precision aren't your friends. Remember, you are naming that which cannot be, by definition, imagined or described, so don't sweat the details. Moreover, it isn't really an apex, because that implies a beginning and an end, but this model is analogous to that which is without beginning, or end.
This leads us to, why do I believe there is a hierarchy or an apex? I'll get to that, really. Bear with me on this one.
Before I continue, though, I'd like to say that I didn't invent this concept. It's basic to a lot of religions, such as Buddhism, and Hinduism. There are echoes of it in some ancient Greek philosphies, and in the Qabalah. The concepts aren't exactly the same, and neither are the names. What I'm calling God is what Qabalists call Ain Sof (אין סוף), and what the Vedic Religions call Brahman (ब्रह्मन्). Although the Buddhists have very complex cosmologies, they think more in terms of states of mind than of the entities which inhabit or represent them; Buddhists have cosmologies of something akin to time as well as cosmologies of what is logically analogous to space. Our word, God, is used for lesser beings in other cosmologies, a quirk of translation that has led to many unfortunate misunderstandings. It isn't as if the Hindus, for example, don't recognize a Supreme Principle, which kind of makes them monotheistic, in a fashion, but the word Brahman has no real equivalent in English. When the foreigners saw these lesser beings, they called them gods, because they didn't realize there was higher still to go, and couldn't understand why someone would honour a lesser being when there were greater ones. The rough comparison, in some religions, is to different levels of “heaven”, but it is important to recognize most of these are grossly simplified, and don't emphasize the fundamental differences between one heaven and the next. Then, again, there are the Buddhists, for whom heaven is only a stop on the way to higher things: even gods need enlightenment.
Note that this isn't, in my version of things, a hierarchy of equal kinds of things. It's not just one entity on top of and controlling another entity. Don't think of it as some kind of human-style organization, with each position filled by a human. It's important to see that, in this hierarchy, each level is qualitatively different from the ones above and below. The entities at one level aren't the same as the entities at another level, they're entirely different kinds of beings, the laws of reality are different, and so on. More on this, below.
I'm going to turn things upside down, now, and jump to the bottom of the hierarchy. Instead of beings, I'm going to talk about minds; ultimately, that's what all beings are, is minds, anyway. So let us consider the human mind. We could move down to rocks and plants, but let's start with humans because they have a measure of self-awareness not shared by, say, plants. But what does the typical human consider himself, as opposed to some other person or thing? The vision of one's self is usually limited. After a little reflection, though, it is clear that the dividing line between two people is somewhat arbitrary. In fact, we cannot exist without the rest of the world. There are connections to other beings and things we can discuss logically, but don't usually actually perceive. In Buddhist terminology, we are conditional: without those other things, without the food we eat and the air we breath, without our parents who gave us birth, and so on, we cannot exist. All perceived things, all phenomena (look up the definition of phenomenon) are conditional. There is a sense in which I don't really exist, because I'm only conditional. (You have to let the words bend a little here. And, you may have noticed, I made another logical leap above by saying that all beings are minds. Stay with me, we'll close the loop at some point. Also, “top” and “bottom” are relative terms.)
This belief that we are separate entities, that we are unconnected to the rest of the universe, is an illusion. To illustrate, suppose you find that statement unbelievable, and you think that at least some part of you is separate from the rest of the world. Where did you get that idea? If you reasoned it or computed it or some such, whence came the computer or brain or mind which arrived at that conclusion? How, and by whom or what, was it designed? Did you learn to think this way from the world around you, or did you inherit the DNA which made you think that way? As you might (I hope) be able to see, everything about you is conditioned upon the “outside” world. Your independent existence is an illusion. But it gets worse: the illusion that you are a separate entity leads to the illusion that you have free will, and that illusion leads to other illusions, and so on.
Pay attention, over time, to your own mind, and you will notice that what you perceive as “you” will be seen to change. What you are, the illusion of you, isn't rock solid and stable. In fact, it fluctuates cyclically, with multiple rhythms. The most pronounced rhythm is circadian: your self-awareness is different when you dream and in dreamless sleep than when you are awake. I caution you now, that if you don't normally have an awareness of your sleeping consciousness, if you don't at least a little, remember your dreams, you're going to find this a little hard to follow. But if you do remember, while waking, what happens to you while dreaming, this will be a little easier. And, yes, if you want to follow this, there are ways to develop waking awareness of your dream state; others have written about them, some are better than others, but I'm not a teacher of these things so I'm not going there right now.
The first point to note is that your dream world is much bigger than your waking world. In your dreams, you can connect dream events with waking events. For example, you might see someone in a dream and recognize him or her, but it usually doesn't work the other way. Your dream self has an awareness that encompasses the awareness of your waking self, and expands on it. The second point to note is that your dream self remains conscious while you are awake. In fact, you often dream while awake, but aren't aware of it. Pay attention and you will see that this is true. I'm not demanding that you take this on faith, because you can see it for yourself, although you may have to gain an awareness of your dreams to perceive it directly.
Your dreams affect your waking life. If you have nightmares, or if you have euphoric, pleasant dreams, then when you awaken, your mood will be different. Some people solve problems in their dreams, or work through difficulties, or receive insights. If you have an awareness of your dream state, then you know this is true. Your dreams are a part of you, which most people don't see: most people have the illusion that they don't include their own dreams. This is one of the most basic kinds of illusions, which make us believe that we are separate. In the same way that you can't really say why you believe or not that you have no independent existence, you often can't say why your thoughts are what they are, without knowing your own dreams.
You are bigger, and include more within you, than your waking awareness tells you.
What comes beyond dreams? It's usually called dreamless sleep. Most people, even if infrequently, can in their waking states remember times of dreamless sleep, but we don't associate much with dreamless sleep except a kind of calm feeling. That's because, in dreamless sleep, the “rules of physics” are different (just as they are in the dream state), and what goes on there isn't seen to us as “action”. However, you can become aware of dreamless sleep, just as you can develop an awareness of your dream time consciousness. Once you do, you will see that, just as your dreaming mind is aware of your awake mind, your dreamless mind is aware of both your awakening and dreaming minds.
Now I have given you a set of three levels of awareness, each encompassing the one below, like a set of matryoshka dolls. With each, the question exists, “Why am I, at this level, as I am?” At the first level, I referenced genetics, environment, and so on, but the question exists on each level. Just as the question exists on each level, the answer is the same: another greater level after that. So, of course, there is another level of awareness after dreamless sleep, and another after that, and so on. Beyond an infinite number of levels, you reach the apex, you reach God.
The mind of God must, by definition, incorporate the minds of all created beings, as this model explains. But we have left a few points which weren't explained in the foregoing, and I promised earlier I'd earlier that I'd clear them up.
The first one mentioned was my assertion that all beings were just minds. Consider what we think of as a being. What defines a person, or even an inanimate object? It's all a matter of perception, of definition. If you, the subject, see something, the object, you have decided that some of what you see belongs to the object, and some parts don't. For example, if you see a bird in a tree, you decide the bird isn't part of the tree. You have decided what is a tree, and what is a bird. But the bird is associated with the tree, even if tenuously. You have arbitrarily created two objects, not one (which could be called a “bird-in-tree”). It is similar to your perception of yourself, where you wrongly limit your concept of what you are and of what you consist. And what if you make a mistake, and see a tree branch or leaf that only looks like a bird? No, the bird, and the tree, are products of your mind. They don't have independent existence, just as you, the subject, are not independent of the object. There is nothing there that, at some level of awareness, isn't part of you. The tree and bird do not exist without you, and you don't exist without that tree and bird. At some point, you have breathed the same air as the bird and tree have breathed, and you owe part of who you are to that bird and to that tree.
How do we know that there is one God, and there are not multiple Gods? Why does your hierarchy converge to the same point as my hierarchy? Because, if I am in your world, then I am part of you, and conversely, you are part of me. There must, therefore, be only one point of convergence.
Note that we can become aware of the higher levels when we are quiet at the lower level. For example, when we cease being awake, then we enter the dream state. Similarly, if you have awareness of your dreams, you will see that when you cease from dreaming, then you enter the state of dreamless sleep. This sounds absurdly simple, but it's significant. It's the key to reaching the apex. Each higher state is quieter and more subtle than the state below it. The activity of the lower state masks the appearance of the upper state. The key to reaching deeper/higher states is to become quiet. The Psalmist said, “Be still, and know that I am God”. Or, as Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati put it, “In it's simplest form, sit on your butt and don't move”.
The kingdom of heaven, as Jesus explained, is within you. It's not out there somewhere, it's inside. The things which are out there, which we perceive, are those shadows that show up on the cave wall: they are merely images of reality itself. Yes, there are a bird and a tree outside, but they are shadows or reflections of the bird and tree which is in your mind. You are merely unaware of the inside bird and tree. To become aware of them, you quieten yourself so that your awareness expands, a eventually you will see the real bird and tree inside. You will come closer to God. Futhermore, you will see your larger self, including your past and future lives, and you will see that you are one with everyone else. This is the message of the great sages, but each presented it in the context of his or her audience's level of awareness and understanding.
Over time, you'll become more skilled at being quiet, and you will spend more and more time in deeper (or higher, if you prefer) states of consciousness. Just as you will come to remember your dreams, you will come to remember the higher states, as well. Sometimes you will go for a long time with no noticeable change or results, but that's to be expected, since what is happening below the surface is what's most important. Swami Vivekananda compared the mind to a steam engine: as long as it has pressure, it will continue to run. You just might have a big head of steam in the engine, so it may take awhile for the engine to stop and become quiet.
Although the above description of my cosmology (rather, my interpretation of other cosmologies) is long, it's actually pretty simple:
That should be easy for almost anyone to understand. With quiet, it should be easy for almost anyone to perceive directly.
The religions of the world have embellished the simple story to the point that most of what they say is imperfect and incorrect commentary, misleading and misguided amendment, obscuring the simple truth. Most of the accretions are cultural, selfish, and egotistical: the imaginings, beliefs, and arrogance of people and groups masquerading as messages from God. Just crap.
The fundamental truths cannot be described literally. Poetry and metaphor are required. So if you want to describe God as a great eagle or a life force, or as a man with a beard, wearing a white robe, and if those are the best words you can find, that's OK by me, as long as the story isn't taken too literally. The variety of forms employed by true believers is awesome, and should bring us together, not tear us apart. One doesn't go to an art show expecting only versions of a single painting, nor to a poetry reading in anticipation of everyone reciting the same verse. The mind of God has many thoughts, and his house has many mansions, all different.
Copyright 2018 Michael Marking. All Rights Reserved.